Over the last decade promoting active travel has moved from the fringes of urban transport policy to a much more central role in the planning of cities and their transport networks.
This is because the promotion of active travel, and the creation of places and streetscapes where people want to walk and cycle, is such a good fit with where cities that are going places want to be.
Those cities want to be healthier and happier places where the costs of treating diseases associated with inactive lifestyles and poor air quality are being tackled. Cities which are places where good growth happens because they are great places to spend time in and people positively want to visit, live, work and invest in them. Cities that want to make the most of available road space by prioritising the most space efficient ways of getting about.
The big shift in thinking in the value of investing in, and promoting, active travel is reflected in a new wave of influential city active travel commissioners, in the benevolent arms race between cities on spend per head on active travel and in the re-shaping of streets from cycle superhighways to healthy streets. It can also be seen in the greater number of cyclists and pedestrians where effective infrastructure and programmes are put in place.
Having said that there is a very long way to go before all Britain’s cities get close to catching up with where many counterpart Nordic, Dutch and German cities have been working towards for much longer. We have a long cycle path ahead of us and part of the role of the Urban Transport Group is to accelerate the take up of what works on active travel. Our new report – active travel: solutions for changing cities – is part of that process.
It shows how and why active travel schemes can work in any urban area – from gritty Northern cities to the heart of the City of London. And it also shows the potential to go further and faster on implementing more good schemes.
In the latest issue of Passenger Transport magazine, Jonathan Bray asks why the NHS is dragging its feet when trials have shown that bringing together transport resources can bring benefits and savings.
Read ‘Put some blue lights on Total Transport‘ here.
When we talk about transport and health it can feel like we’re in a hamster wheel of transport improves health, we could spend money from health budgets to improve transport and save health money, let’s get people active to improve health outcomes etcetera, etcetera… We talk about needing evidence, and being able to quantify the benefits. But we KNOW that getting people active and using public transport has benefits for public health and much, much more. So what’s stopping us? I attended the ‘Sustainable Transport and Health Summit’ last week in Bristol and some specific things struck me regarding the barriers to moving forward on these agendas and how we might start to overcome them.
Many people talk about needing a common language to bring together practitioners in transport and health. Technical language and a whole different flavour of acronym soup means that drawing the agenda together to work for common outcomes has been challenging at best and often seen as just too difficult to attempt. However, as someone recently pointed out, ‘we have a common language, it’s called plain English’. And, for me, they’ve hit the nail right on the head. If we can make the case for the co-benefits of transport and health in a clear, and non-technical way, then perhaps we can sell the vision of cities where active and public transport work together to improve health outcomes.
TfL’s Healthy Streets approach does just that. It makes the case for ensuring that streets are healthy places, using 10 simple indicators, see below. From ease of crossing to clean air and places to sit and rest, the indicators are simple and accessible to those of any background. And none of these indicators are controversial, who wouldn’t want a street that is quiet, feels safe and has things to see and do? And if there are health benefits in the process then great!
We need political vision. Prioritisation of health in transport is picking up pace in London with the backing of a Mayor who has shown leadership and commitment to these issues and is driving forward the Healthy Streets approach. Urban transport authorities more widely have the potential to drive forward the health and transport agenda however they will need the powers and funding to deliver on this.
On evidence, there is a wealth of evidence making the case that transport can improve health. We’ve collected some of that on our web hub for health and transport. In addition, there are tools available which can be used to make the economic case for investment in active travel, including the HEAT tool (Health Economic Assessment Tool).
Here at the Urban Transport Group, we believe that transport can, and should, be working to deliver health outcomes. As such, we’ve committed to continue work on this agenda, starting out by updating and refreshing our web hub and promoting TfL’s Healthy Streets approach beyond London. If you’d like to find out more check out our resources and / or get in touch, we need to continue these conversations and keep this on the agenda!